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The Starting 5: The Hearts and Minds of Minnesota

Leila Navidi/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet 

1. Feelings Aren’t Numbers: Dear Timberwolves fans, – Steve McPherson, 1500 ESPN

After watching the Minnesota Timberwolves roll over and expose their soft underbelly to the Denver Nuggets last night in another dispiriting loss, McPherson’s call for patience and understanding from Timberwolves fans feels prescient and essential. With the perspective of someone who’s watched a lot of bad basketball teams, he shows how the blended lens of analysis and emotion through which die-hard fans see their franchise can skew their view. McPherson doesn’t forgive every mistake made by the coaching staff, or even excuse the losses. He just asks that the analytical eye that criticizes lineups and substitutions also notice innovative play-calls and dedicated players, for the sake of the watcher as much as the team. Sub-par coaching could hinder development and instill bad habits, as Myles Brown argued on Twitter last night. But after only 24 games, it is worth watching the moments of brilliance Tony Towns and Ender are capable of instead of getting bogged down in the future.

2. Rajon Rondo, The Great And Quixotic Tyrant King – Rory Masterson, The Cauldron

The swift and justified condemnation of Rajon Rondo for his homophobic comments towards referee Bill Kennedy is a testament to the moral fiber of the NBA media. It may also tell us something about Rondo himself, and how the uniquely mercurial point guard is perceived. Masterson’s piece tracks the evolution of Rajon Rondo from his Boston days to the present, looking at how his play style and personality have evolved, or failed to, as the league changed around him. He’s always chosen to do things his own way, even if, as the situation in Dallas showed, it’s to his own detriment. While everyone is shocked by the virulence of Rondo’s comments, I don’t think we’re deeply shocked that it was he who made them. Not because he is a deeply hateful person, or even more homophobic than the average kid from Kentucky, one of the least tolerant states in the country according to some researchers. Just because, when you think about it, is there that much Rondo could do that would truly shock you?

3. Watching The Boston Celtics, A Pretty Good Basketball Team – Robert O’Connell, Vice Sports

O’Connell manages to find something new to say about everyone he highlights, and expresses those thoughts with such ease that you can forget how incredibly difficult writing can be. Here, he looks at the Celtics’ dedicated competence, and shows us how to find joy in the simple consistency of their effort. As usual, he avoids cliché as effortlessly as Avery Bradley dodging a poorly set screen, treading new paths through familiar ground. The treadmill of mediocrity has been discussed at length, and we’ve learned to mock the teams that hover between the playoffs and the lottery year after year. O’Connell instead wants us to see the merit in the attempt, in playing the game to win whether you’re supposed to or not, and pulling it out as often as you can. It could easily sound like a hot take about the way the game should be played. Instead he praises the Celtics without elevating them to an example for the whole league or criticizing those who took other paths. It’s admirable, and not just because it’s so scarce.

4. 6 Forgotten Players Finding Their Places – Maxwell Ogden, Hoops Habit

Falling in love with individual role players over the course of the season is one of the great rewards of being a die-hard NBA fan. Everyone gets a rush from a pull-up Steph Curry three, but John Henson swatting a layup into the stands is a feeling you can hold close and treasure as your own. Lists like Ogden’s are a great way to jump-start your love for one of these under the radar all-stars, and there’s no better choice right now than Will “The Thrill” Barton. Leaving aside his energetic offense, poster dunks and improved shooting, he recently joined the proud fraternity of NBA players who throw other dude’s shoes. He was quoted after the game as saying, “That’s how the game goes sometimes. You never know. You might have to make a 3. You might have to throw somebody’s shoe into a crowd.” The other players in the slideshow are equally charming and deserving of love. Take a look.

5. NBA PM: Ezeli Gained New Perspective from Olajuwon – Jessica Camerato, Basketball Insiders

Festus Ezeli is one of the players mentioned in Ogden’s list, and with good reason. He’s not only playing an integral role in the Warriors’ mind-boggling success, he’s a fascinating individual who graduated high school in Nigeria at 14 and moved to the US to become a doctor. His convoluted path to the NBA is detailed in this profile from the San Jose Mercury News, which adds extra depth to Camerato’s interview. Most NBA centers idolize Hakeem Olajuwon, but as a fellow Nigerian who also came to the sport as a teenager, Ezeli’s connection is closer than most. You can tell from the piece that meeting and playing with Olajuwon over the summer at the NBA’s Africa Game was a big deal for Ezeli, as was the advice he received. Ezeli and Olajuwon are also the only two African-born players to win NBA championships, a surprising fact that makes the connection feel that much closer.

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